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Cedar Rapids Halts New Construction in Time Check Near Cedar River

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The path of future flood protect went back on the agenda for the Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday, as members voted 7 to 0 in favor of halting any future construction in an area where the eventual flood walls or berms might go.

The 90-day moratorium would apply to a portion of the Time Check neighborhood closest to the Cedar River. Specifically, it’s the area between Fifth Street and First Street northwest and Penn Avenue and J Avenue northwest.

Only a handful of homes and businesses remain in that zone following years of flood buyouts.

Sandi Fowler, assistant Cedar Rapids city manager, said the city believes the few buildings still standing in the area would eventually be on the wrong side of any future flood protection. That means the city would have to buy out and clear out everything eventually. As part of the moratorium, properties inside the zone could do routine maintenance but couldn’t get building permits for additions or other major improvements.

Fowler said oddly enough, the cost of water service is one reason the push for a moratorium came now. With so few buildings remaining, the city spends approximately $60,000 a year to flush the system and insure safe water for just a handful of people.

Some of the homes inside the zone remain unrepaired. A few owners rejected earlier buyout programs and rebuilt. Rick Ellis is one and he still is bitter about the negotiation process from years before.

“I’d start out at a million dollars just to get me out of here. Because the way we were treated was pretty bad. I didn’t get any answers — and only a couple of the city council members were halfway honest with me,” Ellis said.

Ellis said the price offered for his flood-damaged homes years ago was well below the price of replacement. The federal dollars used then were limited to slightly over pre-flood assessed value. Fowler said this time the city will have a little more price flexibility.

“For those folks not interested in talking to us now, we’re fine with that. We think the flood protection planning process will give them more information they need to determine what their future is,” Fowler said.

The city could use eminent domain to force a sale if a buyout is need and an owner won’t sell. That could drag both owners and the city into a court battle.

Linda Seger, a longtime NW Neighborhood Association activist, said others in the area want future flood protection planning to start. But they also have sympathy for those few neighbors caught on the wrong side of the flood line.

“I think this is a time for negations, understand and calm and to give everybody an opportunity. Because there are people worried now will there be another zone set up in another 90-days,” Seger said.

NOTE: A previous version of this story mentioned an engineering firm working on drawing flood protection lines for a path of flood walls or berms through the Time Check area. Due to a reporter error, this process was associated with the moratorium, when in fact the two are independent. Sentences associating the two have been removed from this article.

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